Friday, September 04, 2009

Bad dreams, high hopes, one minor(ity) teacher

I had a strange dream last night. I was back in the classroom, but don't ask me why.

You know how people (usually during their college years) have the dream where they show up for class and it turns out that day is exam day, and they haven't studied for the test at all? Well, in my dream (I guess since I am the teacher), I show up for class and it turns out it's exam day, and I don't have a final exam for the students.

(Don't worry, it all worked out. I remembered I had a flash drive in my purse with the exam I used last year, so I ran to a computer and printed that document up, even though that exam didn't necessarily align with whatever I may or may not have taught those students this year/semester.)

When I went into teaching, I had high expectations. I wanted to be better than the teachers I'd had (the reason I went in to teaching in the first place was because of my sixth-grade math teacher, who -- when I dared suggest there were two answers to the problem, hers and the one EVERY SINGLE STUDENT IN THE CLASS had gotten -- glared at me and seethed, "The teacher is ALWAYS right"; I had to show her that's not how teachers are supposed to act). I also wanted to be the kind of teacher you see in the movies, the Freedom Writers kind of teacher. The one person who was able to reach out to that student that no one else could... be that kind soul who speaks to that wayward student no one else could understand... all that crap.

Instead, I more often resembled that seething, "I AM ALWAYS RIGHT" teacher. When I have teaching dreams, I'm usually screaming at the students, out of control. That's when I'm not hurling desks and other items across the classroom.

Suffice it to say, I fell far short of my initial expectations.

From the beginning I was disappointed in myself, before I even started. My first job was at a high school in a very, very well-off neighborhood. I was teaching the uber-rich kids... a far cry from the cast of Dangerous Minds.

I felt like a sell-out. If I wanted to be a REAL teacher, shouldn't I have been working at an inner-city school (like the other girls who student-taught with me)?

When I took my last teaching job, at the over-50%-minority high school, I was hoping to be redeemed. Don't know why, since my meager classroom management skills barely cut it with the rich kids (two-[college-educated]-parent household, three-squares-meals-a-day, were read two since they were in the womb), how was I going to manage the lower-SES kids?

I guess I was hoping that my being "one of them", my being Hispanic, would be enough of a bond to make up for my lack of classroom management (or patience).

Obviously, I didn't cut it there, either. We won't get into all the gory details right now, since that's not the point of this post.

With this new job, I'm not in the classroom, but I'm still working with mostly minorities, lower-income students. The Dangerous Minds/Freedom Writers kids.

And I'm wondering if I'm going to be able to cut it this time. I don't think I can count on my "Hispanic" status to be an automatic bridge-builder.

I want to make it. I want to be Hillary Swank. I mean, if blonde little Michelle Pfeiffer could do it, can't I? At least on a part-time, after school?

I'm even going to end my boycott on inspirational-teacher entertainment and read The Freedom Writers Diary, as much salt as it will rub on my wounded pride. See if maybe I can learn a thing or two, before I start teaching these kids.


  1. Real life is rarely like the movies. We don't usually have that music swelling moment where the kid we saved hugs us and thanks us in front of the whole school, but...and this is a big BUT, I think we make a difference in a thousand incremental ways. Keep the faith. Kids need teachers who care, and it's obvious you do.

  2. Interestingly, I see SO MANY PARALLELS between what you say here about being a teacher, and how I feel about being a mom. It's like that post I just wrote last week, where you have this ideal of what you'll be like and then it all comes crashing down when reality smacks you upside the head. I don't have the option of quitting, so I struggle through and go through periods where I feel I'm doing really well, and others where I feel I'm being fairly neglectful.

    But just as I find the idea of the "good enough mother" to be very helpful (I don't have to be perfect, I can't expect myself to be because it will never happen), you also have to set realistic expectations for yourself. Just as Kathy said-- you may have impact on these kids that you won't ever see directly. Think of all the good Mom and Philip have done for Sara, and they don't really get any thanks for it but I am convinced that they have done a world of good for her and she is much, much better off because of what's happened since they moved to Texas, even if she doesn't show it or seem grateful.

    Every day will be a challenge, and every day is also a new opportunity, a new start, a new chance to do better. I'm sure there will be many things that frustrate you in this job, so many things you will feel powerless over. But all you have to do is be nice to these kids, show them a kind face, and a bit of respect (which they probably see little of), and do your small part to help them out. And, also, try to remember that you don't always have all the answers. ; ) You may or may not see the actual results, but my guess is there will be some impact made. So often all they need is someone to believe in them, even if it seems they don't deserve it.

  3. Kathy, Thanks! I try to tell myself I must be making a difference, however small, to SOMEone, but it's still hard to convince yourself sometimes...

    Marcy, I know, I was thinking the same thing when I read your post. :P And while mothers don't have assistant principals coming into their house to appraise them and tell them, "You know, you really should find a way to motivate Johnny [who's spent at least 3/4 of the semester in ISS and spends the little time he has in class either sleeping, checking email, or cussing you out]," you're right -- I can quit. You're stuck. :P

    I do like the idea of the "good enough mother." I think that's the only way to do it -- who's to day what the "good mother" or "perfect mother" is, since each child is completely different?